Category: Data

Exatron Stringy Floppy (1978 – 1986)

The Exatron String Floppy was introduced in 1978, and was an endless loop tape cartridge system for microcomputers. At the time, floppy disk systems were still expensive, and cassette tapes were very slow. Despite the name, so-called stringy floppy systems are unrelated to floppy disks.

The tape cartridges, called wafers, contained a 1/16-inch loop of mylar-based chrome dioxide tape, in different lengths according to the capacity of the wafer. The smallest wafer contained 5 feet of tape and could hold 4 KB of data, and the longest was 75 foot and, capable of holding 64 KB of data. A 16 KB file took just 24 seconds to load.

The Exatron Stringy Floppy system was most commonly used with the TRS-80 range of computers, and did not require an expansion interface. By 1982, the price has fallen to $99.50. As well as being used to save data, software, including programs and games, was available on Stringy Floppy wafers.

Although popular with TRS-80 owners, the system could be unreliable, and as the price of faster and more reliable floppy disk drives fell they became less attractive. They continued to be advertised until 1986.

Similar stringy floppy tape systems were available during the 1980s, including the Sinclair ZX Microdrive, and the Rotronics Wafadrive.

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Nintendo 3DS (2011 – )

The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld game console launched in 2011 as a successor to the Nintendo DS. Its main feature was the ability to display stereoscopic 3D effects on the upper screen without the need for special glasses. Nintendo’s previous attempt at a 3D handheld game console (the Nintendo Virtual Boy) was a commercial failure, and required a special headset to view monochrome 3D effects.

The Nintendo 3DS competes with Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld console.

Several versions of the 3DS have been introduced since its launch, including the 3DS XL with a much larger screen, an entry level 2DS (without the clamshell form factor or 3D facility), and the ‘new’ 3DS and 3DS XL with a faster processor and other upgrades.

It is backward compatible with the Nintendo DS and DSi, and Game Cards for these consoles will fit into the 3DS. Games for the 3DS are prevented from being inserted into the older DS/DSi by a small lug on the card. 3DS Game Cards can hold between 1 and 4 GB of game data (compared to the DS card which held between 8 and 512 MB).

As well as loading games from ROM cards, the 3DS can connect to the Nintendo eShop to download games. Games, audio and picture files can be stored on a Secure Digital or SDHC card (or microSD on the new 3DS/DS XL)

Despite disappointing early sales, the 3DS family become very successful and as of September 2016 had sold over 61 million units.

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Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) (2006 – )

SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) is a variant of Secure Digital offering higher capacity and speed, and was introduced in 2006 as version 2.0 of the SD specification.

Devices that support SDHC cards will still work with standard SD cards, but at slower speeds. However, older devices designed to work with standard SD cards (usually made before 2007) will not usually work with SDHC cards.

Standard SD cards are available up to 2 GB, whereas SDHC cards are able to offer up to 32 GB.

SDHC cards are rated for speed, with Class 2, 4, 6, and 10 available. The class number relates to the MB per second write speed, so a Class 10 card should offer a minimum of 10 MB/second. Some devices may specify a minimum card speed requirement.

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Tapwave Zodiac (2004 – 2005)

The Tapwave Zodiac was a handheld game and entertainment console. It was launched in 2003 by Tapwave, reaching the UK in 2004, and ran a version of the Palm Operating System (which meant it also had PDA functionality).

Two models were available, the Tapwave 1 with 32MB, and the Tapwave 2 with 128MB. The Zodiac had two memory card slots, and could take either MultiMediaCards or Secure Digital cards. Games, music or photos could be loaded on either type, but SD cards were faster. The console had a built-in MP3 player, e-book reader, rumble pack and Bluetooth.

Despite good reviews and some noteworthy games titles, it suffered from strong competition from Nintendo’s DS system and Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP); this along with insufficient funding meant it was discontinued in 2005.

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Iomega Zip 250 (2001 – 2003)

Zip was a high-capacity floppy disk format originally introduced in 1995 by Iomega. Initially, it had a capacity of 100 MB, later increased to 250 MB in 2001, and again to 750 MB in 2002.

The Zip 250 drives were available in a wide variety of interfaces; parallel port, USB 2.0 and FireWire for exernal drives and IDE or SCSI for internal drives.

Although the disks looked identical to Zip 100 disks, they could not be used in the smaller capacity drive and are automatically ejected. They could however be read and written to by the later Zip 750 drives. Zip 250 drives could read and write to the older Zip 100 disks. A variant on the Zip 250, the Zip U250 was also launched in 2001; the U250 disks contained titanium particles in the media to improve the operation of the drives, and were also self-cleaning. The U250 discs were full compatible with Zip 250 drives despite their different shape.

Even before the introduction of the Zip 250, sales of Zip drives had begun falling due to the falling cost of CD-R and CD-RW disks, followed by USB memory sticks.

All Zip variants were discontinued in 2003.

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Photo CD (1992 – 2004)

Photo CD was an optical disc system based on the Compact Disc that allowed the storage of up to 100 high quality images in a proprietary format. It was introduced by Kodak in 1992, and the format is defined in the Biege Book standard (one of the Rainbow Books covering Compact Disc standards). Kodak’s Photo CD system also included the scanners for photo processing labs that could take scans from film negatives or slides. Photographers could take exposed film to a Photo CD processing lab, where the film would be developed and scanned to a Photo CD, or they could have previously developed film scanned to Photo CD.

Photo CDs were designed to be played on a dedicated standalone Photo CD player connected to a domestic television, but they could also be played in a CD-i player. It was possible to play them on a computer with suitable software, but at the time CD-ROM drives were still uncommon.

The system was not popular with consumers, though it was more accepted by professional photographers.  Although there were around 140 Photo CD processing labs in the US alone by 2000, by this time domestic scanners enabled consumers to scan their own photographs. In 1999, Kodak had also introduced the more affordable Picture CD system, with images in JPEG format burned onto a recordable CD that also held the software required to the view and edit the images on a computer.

Kodak had completely abandoned the Photo CD business by 2004, but never released the image specifications. However, it has been reverse-engineered so it is possible to convert images to other formats.

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SNK Neo Geo MVS (1990 – 2004)

The Neo Geo MVS (for ‘Multi Video System’) was a cartridge-based arcade game system released in 1990 by SNK.

The MVS was a coin-operated arcade console that could accept up to six cartridges in a single cabinet (1,2, and 4 slot versions were also available). Different games could be selected by players. and arcade operators could easily swap the cartridges inside the machine and change the exterior artwork. It was a successful product in the 1990s due to its low cost, compact size and the ability to offer different games in the same cabinet. When released, it was also the most powerful arcade system available.

A home version of the Neo Geo system, the AES (for ‘Advanced Entertainment System’) was made available for rental in 1990, and later for sale in 1991 when it was discovered people were willing to pay the high price.

Software is compatible with either system as they had the same specifications, but although the large cartridges look very similar they have different pin configurations and require an adaptor to use in the other system.

Neo Geo memory cards were available to allow players to save a game to return to at a later time, or continue play on either the MVS or AES systems.

Although hardware for the MVS and AES ceased production in 1997, game software was released until 2004 with the last official game being Samurai Shodown V Special. The Neo Geo MVS was replaced by the Hyper Neo Geo 64.

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Iomega Zip 750 (2002 – 2003)

Zip was a high-capacity floppy disk format originally introduced in 1995 by Iomega. Initially, it had a capacity of 100 MB, later increased to 250 MB in 2001, and again to 750 MB in 2002.

The new Zip 750 drives were available in various interfaces; USB 2.0 and FireWire for exernal drives and IDE for internal drives.

Although the disks looked identical to Zip 100 and Zip 250 disks, they could not be used in smaller capacity drives and are automatically ejected. However, Zip 100 discs could be read in Zip 750 drives, and Zip 250 disks can be both read and written to, so users with existing Zip disks could continue to use them. The introduction of the Zip 750 meant that Zip disks had a higher capacity than the competing CD-R or CD-RW disks. However, the cost of Zip 750 disks was much higher than CD-R or CD-RW media, and by the time of its introduction, many PCs had CD burners installed.

The Zip 750 was short-lived as all Zip versions were discontinued in 2003.

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Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer (1980 – 1991)

The TRS-80 Color Computer (often called the CoCo) was a home computer system introduced by the Tandy Corporation in 1980 and sold through their RadioShack stores. It is not to be confused with the monochrome TRS-80 that was aimed at the business and education market and had been introduced in 1977; the two systems are incompatible despite the similar names, and used different microprocessors.

The Color Computer did not have dedicated chips for sound and graphics like some other competing home computers such as the Atari 400 or Commodore VIC-20, so these were handled by the main processor (a Motorola 6809) which was more advanced than those used by competing systems, but consequently had more to do.

The Color Computer had a ROM cartridge slot for ‘Program Paks’. These were mostly games, but some other applications, and even a floppy disk controller could be used to control the 5.25-inch floppy disk drive that was made available as an option later. Initially, data could only be saved using a cassette recorder.

The Color Computer went through three generations before being finally discontinued in 1991, by which time it had gained a full-travel keyboard and 128 KB of RAM (which could be upgraded to 512 KB).

Many (though not all) Program Paks can be read by all three generations, but some require more RAM or joysticks to operate. The Dragon 32 and 64 shared many components with the Color Computer, and many Color Computer cartridges will also work in the Dragon.

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Commodore 16 / Plus/4 (1984 – late 1980s)

The Commodore 16 and the Plus/4 were two home computers introduced in 1984. The Commodore 16 was intended as a replacement for the VIC-20, and was named after its memory capacity of 16 KB. A more basic version of the Commodore 16, the Commodore 116, was sold in Europe, in addition to the Commodore 16.

The Commodore Plus/4 was intended as a higher-end model and came with 64 KB of RAM and four built-in office applications, though these were criticised as not being up to the task.

The Commodore 16 and Plus/4 were software compatible, and ROM cartridges would work on either machine provided the program worked within the Commodore 16’s 16 KB memory. As the Commodore 16 was the bigger seller of the pair, this meant that most software was written with the lower 16 KB limit in mind and didn’t take advantage of the greater memory of the Plus/4. Both machines could also record to Compact Cassette, and optional 5.25-inch disk drives were also available.

Neither model was successful, partly because they were not compatible with the Commodore 64 which had a large software library. After the Commodore 16 was discontinued in the US market in 1985, it was sold in Hungary, and also in Mexico. Similarly, the Plus/4 was discontinued in 1985, but was available from liquidators for some year afterwards.

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